Home » CAGED Arpeggios, an Introductory Guide

CAGED Arpeggios, an Introductory Guide

Learning and practicing arpeggios can help develop dexterity, improve improvisation skills and help with understanding and unlocking the fretboard, in short, arpeggios are hugely useful both musically and in terms of music theory.

With this in mind, today, we’re going to take a closer look at CAGED arpeggios. By taking advantage of the CAGED system, we can utilize any one of 5 patterns of the CAGED system to play arpeggios in many different positions on the fretboard. We’ll get started with a quick summary before we get into more detail, including arpeggio diagrams, tab, and more.

What are CAGED Arpeggios?
Arpeggios consist of chord tones e.g. the notes chords are built from played in order of pitch. E.g. If playing a Cmaj7 arpeggio, we’d include the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th degrees of the major scale (C, E, G, B). Taking advantage of the CAGED system allows guitarists to play arpeggios using the 5 CAGED patterns across the neck.

This article is part of a longer series on the CAGED system. If you are looking for an introduction to the CAGED system click here.


Why Should Guitarists Learn CAGED Arpeggios?

Chord tones, e.g. the notes that arpeggios are built from sound stable and melodic, implying the chord, and making them a vital tool for improvisation.

The additional notes included in a scale (Nonharmonic Tones), while important are less stable and often used as passing notes.

As a result, an understanding of the theory behind arpeggios is useful for developing melodic lines that resolve musically, specific to the chords of a chord progression, rather than the entire progression as you will usually find in the case of playing a minor pentatonic scale for example over a blues chord progression. 

It can help to think of arpeggios as modified scales, or scales with some of the notes removed. And, like CAGED chords and scales, we can play arpeggios in many different positions on the neck and in many different keys, simply using the 5 shapes that make up the CAGED system: C, A, G, E, and D.

To take full advantage of CAGED arpeggios we really just need to know the formula a specific chord is built from e.g. a major triad utilizes the root (1st), 3rd, and 5th notes of the accompanying scale.

Alternatively, a minor triad includes the root, a flattened third (e.g. a note a semitone lower than the third scale degree (major third) of the major scale), and the 5th scale degree (perfect 5th) of the major scale.

Below are the chord formulas we’ll be taking a closer look at in this guide, including major and minor and 7th chord arpeggios.

For those unfamiliar, a♭symbol indicates the note is one semitone lower than the scale degree e.g. ♭3 means the note is one semitone lower than the 3rd degree of the major scale, and of course, the ♯ symbol indicates the note is one semitone higher.

TypeFormula
Major1 – 3 – 5
Minor1 – ♭3 – 5
Dominant 7th1 – 3 – 5 – ♭7
Minor 7th1 – ♭3 – 5 – ♭7
Major 7th1 –  3 – 5 – 7
Minor, major 7th1 – ♭3 – 5 – 7

*Note, a flattened third is not simply one scale degree lower than the 3rd scale degree e.g. the 2nd scale degree of the major scale, it is one semitone lower. For example, an A major arpeggio consists of the notes A, C♯, and E. An A minor arpeggio includes the notes A, C, and E as we have lowered C♯ by a semitone.


So, How Does the CAGED System help?

Take the fretboard diagram below, which shows a C Major scale in 2nd position (using an A pattern). I’ve numbered the different scale degrees, starting on the lowest root note found on the 3rd fret of the 5th string and ascending up in pitch. 

* If you are a little rusty on reading scale charts click here for a complete tutorial.

A Form - C Major Scale
C Major Scale

Taking our example Cmaj7 chord which consists of the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th scale degrees of the major scale, to play a Cmaj7 arpeggio we simply play the scale omitting the 2nd, 4th, and 6th scale degrees as per the example below. 

A Form - C Major7th Arpeggio
Cmaj7

To play a Dmaj7th arpeggio we could therefore use the same pattern but slide the entire pattern two frets higher up the neck, or likewise to play a Bmaj7th arpeggio we’d slide the pattern one fret lower on the neck as there isn’t an accidental (aka sharp or flat) between B and C.


Why not just hold a chord position and play the notes individually?

Arpeggios are described as the notes of a chord played sequentially, in order of pitch. But the notes included in many chords won’t always be in ascending or descending order, as notes on the same string are impossible to include if strumming.

However, when played one note at a time they become accessible.

For example, the notes in an A major chord are A (root), C# (major third), and E (perfect fifth).

If we tabbed out the chord shape playing single notes using an E form barre chord, we’d have the following, and our order of notes would be root, 5th, root, 3rd, 5th, root.

 E Form A Major Chord

However, we can add additional ‘chord tones’ that we couldn’t normally include if strumming an A major chord as the notes fall on the same string. This facilitates the notes being assembled in order of pitch and makes the arpeggio more interesting musically.

 E Form A Major Arpeggio

For example, we now have an additional C# available at the 9th fret on both the 1st and 6th strings. C# is the major third of the scale and can therefore be played after the root but before the 5th allowing the notes to be assembled in order of pitch.

Keep in mind, like scales, we play arpeggios as shapes or patterns, meaning they can be moved around the neck to play in different keys, taking advantage of our knowledge of the CAGED system.


CAGED Arpeggio Examples

Below are examples of arpeggios using the 5 Major CAGED Shapes.

Each example is in the key of G, but keep in mind, the key itself is far, far less important than the pattern or shape used, as the pattern can be moved higher or lower on the fretboard e.g. if moving the entire pattern up two semitones (2 frets) we would be in the key of A. 

C form – G Major Arpeggio

The notes that make up a major chord are the root, 3rd, and 5th scale degrees of the major scale. The example below is in the key of G (G, B, D) but keep in mind we are learning the pattern which is moveable.

If you are new to the concept of scales or arpeggios it’s also important to remember, we always start on the lowest root note (G). So, start the arpeggio pattern on the 10th fret of the A string (G).

C Form - G Major Arpeggio
C form – G Major Arpeggio
C Form - G Major Arpeggio TAB

A form – G Major Arpeggio

Following along with the order of C-A-G-E-D, our next arpeggio pattern is A. In this case, playing a G Major arpeggio starts with the root note on the 10th fret of the 5th string. Note, when descending we include the D on the 10th fret of the 6th string before returning to the root.

A Form - G Major Arpeggio
C form – G Major Arpeggio
A form - G Major Arpeggio TAB

G form – G Major Arpeggio

Our next CAGED arpeggio uses the G pattern, which outlines the G Major chord. This pattern contains three root notes, with our lowest root note found on the 6th string, 3rd fret. In this position (G major) we also include the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th open strings. 

G form - G Major Arpeggio
G form – G Major Arpeggio
G form - G Major Arpeggio TAB

E form – G Major Arpeggio

The E form G major arpeggio also includes three root notes, with our starting root note found on the 3rd fret of the 6th string. This pattern closely resembles the E form barre chord shape with an additional 3rd found on the 2nd fret of the 5th string.

G form - G Major Arpeggio
E form – G Major Arpeggio
E form - G Major Arpeggio TAB

D form – G Major Arpeggio

Unlike our other CAGED arpeggio patterns, the D form arpeggio shape for G Major begins on the 10th fret of the 4th string.

D Form - G Major Arpeggio
D form – G Major Arpeggio
D form - G Major Arpeggio TAB

Minor CAGED Chord Arpeggios

We can use the CAGED system to play minor arpeggios also, by knowing the scale degree formula for minor chords (1, ♭3, 5) but perhaps the simplest way is to use the major arpeggios we’ve shown above as a reference and simply lower the 3rd by a semitone (♭3). 

To put this into practice we’ll demonstrate using our C form G major chord, converting the arpeggio to G minor.

C Form G minor Arpeggio
C Form G minor Arpeggio

You can then use the same formula (flatten the 3rd by a semitone) on the remaining 4 CAGED patterns.


7th chord arpeggios

Much like we used major arpeggios as a reference to build minor chords, we can do the same for other chord shapes including 7th chords.

7th chords are not triads (chords with 3 notes), so we’ll be introducing an additional scale degree, the 7th. Below are the chord formulas for building the most common 7th arpeggios. 

Dominant 7th1 – 3 – 5 – ♭7
Minor 7th1 – ♭3 – 5 – ♭7
Major 7th1 –  3 – 5 – 7
Minor, major 7th1 – ♭3 – 5 – 7

As we have done with our minor arpeggios, we can simply use the major arpeggio as a reference and then adjust based on the chord formulas above.

So for example, a dominant 7th chord simply requires a flattened 7th scale degree to be added to a major chord arpeggio, as shown in the example below which utilizes the A pattern.

A Form - G Dominant 7th Arpeggio
A form – G Dominant 7th Arpeggio

To build a minor 7th arpeggio we simply flatten the 3rd and 7th scale degrees as per the formula in the table above.

To build a major 7th arpeggio we simply take any of the 5 CAGED arpeggio patterns used above and add an additional 7th scale degree and lastly to build a minor, major 7th arpeggio we add a 7th to an existing minor arpeggio pattern.


Tips for playing CAGED Arpeggios

As previously discussed arpeggios are useful for building dexterity, along with being a useful tool for understanding guitar theory. Below are some tips you can apply to assist further:

  • Learn the notes of the 5th and 6th strings (and to a lesser extent the 4th). The root of all CAGED patterns are found on these strings, so knowing the notes of each will allow you to better navigate the fretboard.
  • To really expand your fretboard knowledge try to say the scale degrees out loud as you are playing the arpeggio. This will help you identify the different scale degrees relative to the CAGED pattern you are playing and will additionally help when it comes to constructing extended chords such as add9 and 11th chords as you will have a reference point.
  • To improve efficiency (which will help with speed and accuracy) focus on alternate picking (alternating down and upstrokes).
  • Consider the position of your hands relative to the starting note. For example, playing a C pattern you would start the pattern using the pinky. For the A pattern, it’s more efficient to start with the middle finger.
  • Try to use arpeggios musically e.g. in many cases guitarists won’t include the full arpeggio in a section of music and may instead focus on just the top four strings.

Summary

CAGED arpeggios are one of the greatest improvisational tools at your command, when combined with the CAGED system you can essentially play arpeggios in any key using a variety of positions on the fretboard. I hope the information above helps you if new to the concept and remember if new to the CAGED system be sure to check out our other articles.

About Marty

My name's Marty, I've been into guitars for over 30 years. Theacousticguitarist.com is my blog where I write about acoustic guitars, music, and home recording.